The test for any good book is simple: can you put it down easily after you’ve started reading? Is there a sense of loss every time you stop reading? Well, with Craig Thompson’s Blankets, it passed this test with flying colors — I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to finish it, every once in a while glancing at the clock as it approached 1, then 2, then 3 AM, knowing I should go to sleep, but then just turning the page and ignoring all practicality. I was lost in the beauty of the artwork, the story. My eyes just wouldn’t close.
The subtitle of this volume is “an illustrated novel” and, clocking in at 582 pages and never published in serial form, it lives up to that title. Thompson’s previous graphic novel, Good-bye, Chunky Rice was a bit of an oddity to me — a melancholy meditation on love, loss, and companionship that left me a bit adrift once I finished it, wondering who it was aimed at while still being haunted by a lingering sense of sadness. Blankets, on the other hand, was more accessible, but also left me with an emotional aftereffect seldom equaled by other graphic novels. This tome follows, as a memoir with fictionalized bits, the author’s senior year of high school, a collision of first love, faith, and the drive to create art. The work is peppered with flashbacks that inform the main story, showing glimpses of the upbringing that edges all of Craig’s current concerns, from his parents’ fundamentalist beliefs to the acid of schoolyard taunts.
Thompson’s artwork is jagged and fluid all at once, breaking the customary panel boundaries to jab you in the heart with moment after moment of regret, passion, contented silence and crushing doubt. Thompson has a wonderful ear for family dynamics, as well as the rhythm of conversation — simple exchanges with the power to lift you up or break your heart. I’m hard pressed to come up with another more perfect marriage of art and word. The issues, from brotherly affection, disintegrating love, a search for true faith, and memories that always return, are appealing to almost any audience, though with occasional nudity and more mature content the book probably best belongs in an older teen or adult collection. I went to sleep besotted with the story and lines of this ambitious work, content to dream of such lyrical memories, not to mention itching to pick up my own pencil and record it all.
by Craig Thompson
Top Shelf 2003